Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Asparagus time again!

Well it is asparagus time again and yet again, I cannot resist coming up with a new asparagus recipe for you. Enter, on cue, the first stubby, Wye Valley asparagus; probably rather later than usual as everything is way behind this year.
As you know from past years I get very excited about the new season’s crop of asparagus because I totally ignore all imports that arrive on our shores throughout the rest of the year. I feel much the same about, strawberries, raspberries, runner beans.....shall I go on?
There is no more delicious a starter than lightly cooked asparagus spears served in melted butter or with extra virgin olive oil. You might like to add a little grated Parmesan cheese or some black pepper, even some lemon juice but it is hardly necessary if the asparagus is freshly picked and freshly cooked. Dip them in a lightly boiled egg yolk or put them on toast with a poached egg. Add them to pasta dishes and risottos as the main event. This time around I have combed them with prosciutto and pancetta and put them in and on a tart.

Asparagus and Prosciutto Tart - serves 6-8

150g plain flour
15 g corn flour
1 teaspoon sieved icing sugar
pinch of salt
90 g softened butter
2 small free-range egg yolks
1 tablespoon dry white wine or iced water

8 tender thick asparagus spears
4 slices of prosciutto cut in half
4 eggs
250 ml double cream
50 g parmesan cheese
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
Freshly milled pepper
140 g cubed pancetta

Loose based tart tin 26cm, buttered
Rolling pin
A circle of baking parchment 2-4 cm larger than the tart tin
Dried beans for baking blind

Preheat oven to 220 F 425 C gas 7 then lower to 180C 350 C gas 4

Put the flours, icing sugar and salt in a bowl; add the softened butter, egg yolk and white wine if using. Quickly and lightly knead the ingredients together into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and set in the fridge for an hour to rest.
While the pastry is resting prepare the asparagus; snap off the tough ends of the spears. Cut the spears in half. Wrap each tip half in a half slice of prosciutto; arrange in a roasting tin and reserve.
Put 250 ml of salted water on to boil. Cut the bottom half of the spears into 1 cm lengths and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until tender. Blanch in ice cold water, drain and pat dry.
When the pastry has rested, roll it into a neat circle on a well floured work surface. The pastry should be 3-4 centimetres larger than the tin.
Line the tart tin with the pastry, put the baking parchment on top and fill with the baking beans.
Put in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes, or until golden around the edges, at the higher temperature. After this time, take out and discard the parchment and the beans. Paint the base with a little egg white.
Cook the asparagus and prosciutto rolls in the same oven for 5 minutes and reserve.
Put the eggs, cream, parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and pepper in a small bowl and whisk well, add the asparagus bits and the pancetta, mix once and pour into the tart tin and cook at the lower temperature until set, say 20 minutes.
Take the tart out of the oven, arrange the asparagus rolls around the top and leave to cool, take the tart out of the tin and serve with new potatoes and salad as a main course or on its own as a starter.

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